|A high school senior receives a score card for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) at Hyesung Girls' High School in Seoul, Dec. 23, 2020. Korea Times file.|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Universities here are suffering from falling enrollments as the number of people at the age to enter higher education has been declining in line with the nose-diving birthrate in the country.
While the decrease in new enrollments started at colleges in remote areas about a decade ago, now schools in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area ― relatively prestigious ones with higher competition for admissions ― are facing the same dilemma.
According to the Korea Council for University Education, Tuesday, 162 universities nationwide failed to meet their student enrollment quotas for the upcoming 2021 school year that will start in March. Usually a student applies for multiple schools, and if more than one accept the student, the student must choose between them, leaving the other schools needing to fill the vacancy.
Hence, the 162 schools are trying to select 26,129 students additionally to fill the vacancies, among those who initially failed to get admissions. This additional recruitment is nearly three times higher than the previous year's 9,830.
By region, colleges in North Gyeongsang Province took up the largest portion, with 4,331 additional students, followed by Busan with 3,883, North Jeolla Province with 2,566 and South Chungcheong Province with 1,989.
But the student enrollment quotas for universities in Seoul also increased, from 488 last year to 727 this year. Some medical schools in Gyeonggi Province even failed to meet their quotas, which is very rare as they typically have very high competition rates.
The situation was anticipated in advance, as there were not enough applicants for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) to fulfill the quotas for regular admission this year.
|A university student walks on a quiet campus in Seoul in this March 22, 2020 photo. Korea Times photo by Choi Eun-seo|
For this reason, universities that failed to meet their enrollment quotas have been struggling to attract students, even promising scholarships or various giveaways.
Honam University in Gwangju said it would offer iPhones and AirPods as gifts for freshmen this year, regardless of other scholarship benefits.
Changshin University in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, announced it would provide all freshmen with a full scholarship for a year, while Busan Catholic University said it would waive tuition for the first semester for all freshmen.
Daegu Haany University in North Gyeongsang Province said it would also provide scholarships worth up to 12 million won ($10,802) for one year to all freshmen, as well as provide school dormitories for free for four years.
"We have provided some scholarships to freshmen every semester, but this year we have greatly increased the benefits due to concerns over a student shortage," an official of Daegu Haany University said.
"There is also the fact that the number of freshmen coming from other regions has decreased a lot as many local universities like us couldn't carry out promotional activities last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak."
Many universities are expected to shut down due to the decreasing number of students, while related countermeasures by the education authorities have been insufficient.
Kyungbuk University of Foreign Studies is the only university that has completed the liquidation of remaining assets, among the 17 universities that have closed down since 2000.
Due to the sluggish liquidation process, unpaid wages that the closed universities failed to pay to faculty members reportedly exceeded 47 billion won.
The Ministry of Education has decided to start a policy study to come up with measures to resolve such issues, such as how to help a school in the liquidation process and how to merge schools in similar situations.
"While encouraging universities to reduce student quotas voluntarily, the Ministry continues to evaluate universities and reflect the evaluation results in terms of government financial support for them," an official of the education ministry said.
Last month, the Ministry announced it would evaluate the educational environment and performance of all universities across the country, as well as limit financial aid for universities in the bottom 10 percent, in a kind of "higher education restructuring."